Originally published: 22.08.16
Not too long ago, Brock Turner, a Stanford student, raped a woman who was inebriated. The judge gave him to a meager sentence saying he has too much potential and did not want to ruin his life.
Last week, an exact copy cat case occurred. Austin Wilkerson, a University of Colorado student, offered to take his inebriated friend back to her dorm. Instead of escorting her to safety, he took his chances with her and raped her without her consent. He was let off with a light sentence too, despite confessing that he “digitally and orally penetrated” the woman while he “wasn’t getting much of a response from her.”
In both cases the men were white. They were privileged males and the system supported them. Their prospects in the world were a lot more important than some girl’s consent and her right to object to their desire to have sex. It is just how things are. Men violate women and women have to give them a pass – understand that taking them to trial might interfere in their plans to do something with their life. Brock Turner had bright prospects everyone said. He could have been the next Michael Phelps. A few seconds of fun shouldn’t ruin all that. Who cares what the women had to endure? Who told them to get drunk? Who told them to behave like sluts and flirt with them? So what if the women are having nightmares? Well, maybe this incident will teach them to not drink to the point of oblivion again so no one can take advantage of them.
Those victim blaming words rung hard in my ears from the moment I heard them.
The women shouldn’t drink so no one can take advantage of them. The women shouldn’t drink so no one can take advantage of them. The women. The women.
I was 14 or 15 and some guy who had a crush on me sent me flowers. My father is a very conservative man and when the flowers came home, he sent them back. Later that night, he sat me down for one of his “conversations”. I didn’t mind those, as long as they didn’t threaten to turn physical and smash my head in the wall. But this one stayed with me. “Tu gaand halavine chaalti hase eni saame, etle ene tane phool mokalya” (you must have enticed him by shaking your butt and hips when you walked past him. That’s why he sent you flowers), he said. My mother sat next to him, shaking his head in agreement. “Barabar che, ekdam barabar che”, (you’re right, you’re absolutely right) she responded to her husband, slut shaming me more. It was all my fault. If I didn’t shake my ass, men wouldn’t be attracted to me. If only I covered myself and not walk that way, the men wouldn’t notice me. If only I kept my head down when I was walking down the street, I could avoid their gaze. If only…
So why couldn’t I? What was I doing wrong that men were attracted to me? How could I stop it? What could I do to make it stop? The answer eluded me. I never understood what I did wrong and how I could rectify it. I blamed my genes, I blamed my mind, I blamed everything about me. I hated myself because I caused my parents so much pain. I hated myself for being so “friendly” with boys. I hated everything I did and most of all I hated that I didn’t know what those things were. If only I knew I could stop doing them. If only…
A few years later, I was going to school in Pennsylvania. One night, my ex-boyfriend got violent with me and grabbed me by my shoulder. Somehow I was able to break free, run to my apartment and call the cops. They came and told me they would go “talk” to him. Never once did they ask me if I wanted a restraining order. Never once did they inform me of my rights as a victim of violence. After a few weeks, I was told to appear in court for a hearing.
Word spreads quickly on a college campus and students started to avoid me. No one wanted to talk to me. My friends took his side and bowed their heads down in the corridor when they passed me. I was not the victim in their eyes but someone who was trying to take a young man’s future away from him. The President of the International Student body called out to me. Thinking I may finally find support because she was a colored woman, I went to see her. Instead, I was blamed. I could allow his future to flourish if I took back everything she told me. After all, his future was at stake. What he did that night was a stupid mistake. He didn’t mean it. So why don’t I forget about it all and withdraw my complaint? Why do I want to make it harder for a black man in this country? Don’t I realize the extent of my folly? If only I hadn’t gotten him aggravated none of this would have happened. If only I had called her instead of calling the police, she could have quietly handled it all. If only I had thought of my next course of action before haphazardly calling the police. If only…
Well I didn’t withdraw and guess what? The judge did the job for me. My ex violated me, called me names and he was let off. After I got out, I cried in the car with my friend. If only I hadn’t complained. If only I had withdrawn I wouldn’t be humiliated. If only the judge would have believed me. If only that night the cops would have done more. If only…
We women are not a series of if only’s…We have the right to seek justice and not be blamed for someone else’s actions. Brock Turner raped a drunk woman, as did Austin Wilkerson. Men were not attracted to me because I shook my ass…it wasn’t my bloody fault they were attracted to me. And what my ex did that night didn’t warrant my fault or my responsibility. That was all on those men. I didn’t haphazardly call the police…I had a right to call them and they had a responsibility to inform me of my rights.
We live in a society where it is so easy to blame women, easy to tell them this happened because we did something wrong. We do not hold the onus of blame on the men. We do not tell them they should stop behaving the way they do, stop abusing women, stop raping them, stop blaming them for what are essentially their actions alone. This world does not operate on the wheels of women, men are a vital part of the process too.
Education, awareness and policies are needed to drive this victim blaming attitude into the ground. As a domestic violence liaison, I see the need for this work everyday. Survivors uproot themselves, find new homes, change their routines, avoid the abuser but guess what…he still manages to find and harass them. If only the survivors could keep themselves safe. If only they could do more. If only…
Its time to change this nauseating victim blaming narrative so the next time a woman is violated, we punish the man to the full extent of the law. His privilege, his gender and his future prospects do not factor into the decision. We shift the stigma on him so instead of us, next time, he says, “if only I hadn’t done that”.
This story was first published on World Pulse.
Liberating Realisations : I am womanist. I’m a writer passionate about women’s right and equality. My aim is to bring change in the way women and men are treated around the world and specially in India. I’m fighting for respect and to be treated as an equal. My blog, Liberating Realizations, on Tumblr talks about /documents the inequality – violence, abuse, rape, torture – that women face everyday all around the world, and, particularly in India. I was a victim of violence for many years and for the first time in my life am finding my “voice”. I want to use this voice to talk about equality and promulgate the belief that women are equal to men and deserve to be treated better. I occasionally write about other things as well – anything that might grab my fancy – but in the end I am a champion for women/girl rights. My Twitter handle is @rupandemehta.